Enemies are the bread and butter of Fox News. The network is notorious for churning out an endless stream of people its viewers are instructed to fear and loathe: feminists, gay people, immigrants, atheists and the Bureau of Land Management. This constant stream of enemies helps keep viewers tuning in to see whom they need to hate this week and keeps them in a state of perpetual anger and fear so that they’re easy to manipulate politically.
Even so, it’s alarming to see the newest group of Americans Fox News is telling its audience is public enemy No. 1: their own children. Tuning into Fox News lately means hearing about how Americans in their teens and 20s are oversexed and out of control. Audiences are even hearing that young people are such a public menace that older people are well within their rights to murder them.
It makes sense that Fox would eventually come around to explicitly treating young people like the enemy. The median age of a Fox viewer is 68 years old, and rising. Meanwhile, young people are the most Democratic demographic in the country, with 60 percent of voters ages 18-29 voting for Obama in 2012, compared to only 44 percent of those 65 and older. Trashing young people does double duty for Fox, helping create the us vs. them mentality its ratings thrive on, and allowing viewers to tell themselves the only reason Democrats win elections is because this younger generation is broken and lost.
The main strategy for stoking hatred of young people is, unsurprisingly, rank dishonesty. Statistics tell us that the millennial generation and the high school kids coming up right behind them are harder-working, more studious, more sexually responsible and less likely to screw up their lives than the generations before. Teen pregnancy and drug use have been in a rapid decline in the past 20 years. High school graduation rates are hitting record levels. Crime, which is usually a province of the young, hit its highest rates when the baby boomers were young, and has been in decline ever since. The only problem with kids nowadays is that they’re a bunch of goody-two-shoes that are making older generations look lazy and criminal.
But if you tune into Fox News, you’d get a totally different impression, one of youth out of control. Take, for instance, Sean Hannity’s ridiculous spring break coverage. Even though spring break is a tradition that’s been around for four generations now, Hannity’s coverage implied that the hard-partying atmosphere on beaches in Florida and Texas was somehow brand-new, or at least reaching levels of debauchery unknown in the past. The evils of spring break were apparently so dire that Hannity had to devote five separate shows to covering it. He even commissioned a panel of adults to sit around shaking their heads in judgment at all these young party people, as if the concept of drinking alcohol while wearing a swimsuit had only been invented in the past five years. The panelists were particularly outraged to hear that young, single women were having sex. Never mind that nearly all young women have been having sex without the benefit of marriage since the 1950s.
And what attack on the young would be complete without pearl-clutching over pop music? Bill O’Reilly has been on an obsessive streak lately with attacks on Beyoncé, whose sexually explicit songs and videos have him in a complete tailspin. Even though teen birth rates have been in sharp decline during the entire length of Beyoncé’s career, watching "The O’Reilly Factor’s" many, many segments lambasting Beyoncé would lead one to think the opposite. O’Reilly openly blames Beyoncé for supposedly soaring teen pregnancy rates, saying she “glorifies having sex,” as if no one had ever considered the possibility that sex is fun prior to Beyoncé. Attempts to point out to him that teen birth rates are down tend to be met with dismissals. O’Reilly is clearly trying to get his audience up in arms about how kids these days are living “libertine” lifestyles, and to channel their sanctimony and jealousy into more hatred for the young.
And if getting Fox audiences riled up about the supposedly licentiousness of the young doesn’t do it, O’Reilly is also pushing the narrative that kids these days are also lazy and ignorant. "The O’Reilly Factor" has taken to sending reporter Jesse Watters out to places like Miley Cyrus concerts and Columbia University to show selectively edited videos of young people not knowing certain facts about current events. The irony of a network that deliberately misleads its senior audience mocking young people for being ignorant seems completely lost on them. No wonder Stephen Colbert went after O’Reilly for this, showing his own video of young people being perfectly up on current events — more up on them, of course, than most Fox viewers. The only parties who are ignorant here are those who buy O’Reilly’s lie about young people being ignorant.
It’s bad enough that Fox News is pushing the narrative that young people are stupid and oversexed, but things have grown even darker recently with Sean Hannity championing the cause of Byron Smith, who was convicted of the premeditated murder of 17-year-old Nick Brady and 18-year-old Haile Kifer. Kids had been breaking into his house when he wasn’t home, so Smith, clearly eager to use this as an opportunity to kill someone, parked his truck a few blocks away and snuck back into his house, waiting for some teenagers to break in. He clearly knew they weren’t a danger, just as he knew they wouldn’t break into his house when he was home. When the two kids, who were cousins, broke into the house, he gunned them down and then finished off the job, execution-style. He also made sure to lay out a tarp for the bodies to protect his carpeting. Obviously, it’s wrong for teenagers to break into houses, but the premeditation and the fact that they were nothing but petty criminals makes it clear why the jury had to convict Smith.
Smith made an audiotape calling his victims “vermin,” and claiming he was just “cleaning up a mess.” Hannity vigorously argued that the right to self-defense should be broad enough to cover this kind of human-hunting. In a sense, the segment was the perfect culmination of months of youth-bashing on Fox News. Hannity got to scare his audience by implying, falsely, that there are armies of scary young people out to get you. He then encouraged them to see young people as a threat so frightening that murdering them in cold blood is an acceptable response.
Conservatives are always on about how much they love the children. But apparently, the second they go through puberty, Fox News wants you to believe that the children are out of control and so frightening some of them deserve to be murdered. Generational warfare based on fear-mongering and lies might be good for Fox’s ratings, but it can’t be anything but dangerous for this country.